Joachim Löw had plenty of credit banked after Germany's 2014 World Cup triumph, but he's now overdrawn. His reign has been a successful one, but his errors in Russia should mean his time is up, says DW's Matt Pearson.
"The responsibility is mine," said Germany coach Joachim Löw after a tepid loss to South Korea confirmed the country's first World Cup first round exit since 1938.
It was a noble but necessary statement from a man who has always led his country with class and no little success, with the Confederations Cup last year adding to the World Cup 2014 win and last-four finishes in the last three European Championships.
But the contract extension Löw signed on the eve of the tournament now looks an even stranger piece of timing than it did then. As poor as the South Korea performance was, it was almost on a par with any that Germany managed to produce in Russia.
While Löw's senior men deserve their share of the blame — Sami Khedira, Mats Hummels, Mesut Özil, Manuel Neuer and Thomas Müller among those who have drastically underperformed — the buck stops with the man at the top.
Long considered a strength, Löw's undying loyalty to his core group has rapidly become his Achilles' heel. Hummels, Özil and Khedira were brought in from the cold on Wednesday and, though better than they were against Mexico, none were able to reach the heights of four years ago.
Lack of pace a major issue
Throughout the tournament the holders were ponderous, with Timo Werner the only man at the front of the pitch with anything near the pace that's studded throughout most of the other tournament contenders. Julian Brandt showed flashes of speed in his limited time off the bench, but the omission of Manchester City flyer Leroy Sane looked stranger by the minute.
Sane alone would not have cured the ills that ran through Germany's team, but he would have offered something different and would have meant Löw wasn't forced to farm Leon Goretzka out to the right, a positional decision that negated the driving central runs that have made the new Bayern Munich man's name.
This wasn't the only big call Löw has got wrong. Neuer was rushed back from injury and looked rusty throughout. His poor handling of an early South Korean free kick the latest in a number of moments that showed his previous impenetrable solidity had been chipped away by his absence.
Löw's substitutions also spoke to the stale mindset that looks to have settled over Die Mannschaft. In the opener against Mexico he replaced the struggling Khedira with winger Marco Reus, further exposing a central midfield that was already overrun. His next change — Mario Gomez for Marvin Plattenhardt — waited till the 79th minute, then Brandt came on four minutes from time, and struck the post almost immediately. The story was similar in Germany's other two games, Löw's replacements were either too late, tactically questionable, or both.
Time for a change
The heated hours after the game may not be the best time to think of the future, but looking ahead is inevitable at such seismic moments. Question marks hang over the heads of most of Germany's stars, and with a crop of youngsters headed by Sane, Brandt, Niklas Süle and Goretzka waiting in the wings, this is the time for a new broom.
''I need a few hours to get things clear, the disappointment is great. We will discuss it tomorrow," Löw said, in a nod to the pressure he'll face in the coming hours and days.
This is undoubtedly a sad chapter in an otherwise exceptional 12 year story, but even the best sides need freshening up. Unfortunately for Löw, and for Germany, the 58-year-old failed to realize this before it was too late.
"Our last outstanding performance was in the fall of 2017," said Hummels immediately after Wednesday's loss. "This is a very, very bitter evening."
It's not the end Löw would have hoped for or, perhaps, the one he deserves. But it's the end Germany need.